HOW TO PREPARE WALLS FOR PAINTING – HOME IMPROVEMENT TECHNIQUES
Getting beautifully painted walls is not as simple as just slapping the new paint on the wall. You’ve got to take a few steps to get your walls in the best condition for painting. You want a clean, smooth surface for the paint to adhere.
HERE’S WHAT YOU’LL NEED:
Spackle – for patching small holes. My go-to spackle is DryDex Spackling Interior/Exterior, because it goes on pink and then, when it’s dry, turns white. You don’t have to guess when it’s dry (or paint over it and find out the hard way!).
P.S. “Spackle” is the actual material used for filling holes; “spackling” is the verb meaning “to apply spackle.” That said, everyone, including me, interchanges these terms all the time. But I looked it up, because that’s how I roll.
Putty knife – I use one like this Putty Knife, with a metal, not plastic, blade. I prefer the way the metal smooths the spackle over the holes.
Joint compound and drywall repair kit: If you have a bigger hole in your drywall than spackle can tackle (ha!), then you’ll need a drywall repair kit like this 3M Patch Plus Primer Kit. Buying a kit like that is great if you just have a small patch job, because you don’t have to buy the large tub of drywall compound and large roll of tape just for a little patch. The kit contains everything you’ll need for a smallish patch job (a hole the size of a fist or smaller).
Sandpaper or sanding block: I like 180-grit or higher sandpaper to sand patches on the wall before painting. That said, I prefer using a sanding block, rather than sandpaper, like this one – 3M Small Area Sanding Sponge – for walls because it’s easier to hold and it works well. I use a medium grit sanding block for this.
Rags and warm water: for cleaning the walls after sanding.
Tack cloth: A tack cloth is a piece of gauzy fabric with an adhesive coating on it. It’s good for wiping down walls and surfaces after you sand them, to get all the fine particles up. I don’t like to get the adhesive coating on my hands when I use a tack cloth, so I usually wear rubber gloves when using them. Alternatively, you could just use a damp rag to pick up the sanding dust.
Painters’ tape: I like this kind: ScotchBlue Painter’s Tape, Advanced Multi-Surface.
Drop cloths or sheets: to protect floors and counters.
A mask: to protect yourself from breathing in dust while sanding, like this 3M Particulate Respirator.
A shop vac (wet-dry vac) is also helpful, but not necessary. I have this one – Ridgid WD1636 16-gal. 5-Peak HP Wet/Dry Vacuum – and I love it.
LET’S GET STARTED…
FIRST, TAKE EVERYTHING OFF THE WALLS.
If you have shelves on the wall, I would at least remove the shelves, if not the brackets, too. If you are keeping the brackets in the same place after painting – in my kitchen painting project, I wasn’t – then you could leave them on the walls and tape around them to make sure paint doesn’t get all over them.
Also, remove everything you can from the area where you’re painting. If you can’t move something or it’s too big to move, just cover it with a drop cloth. For example, in the kitchen, I removed everything on the counters. Then I covered the counters and sink with a drop cloth to protect them. I secured the drop cloth to the counter with painters’ tape.
After clearing the room, wipe down the walls to remove any leftover stray pieces of drywall or paint. You can just use a damp rag for this (damp is the key word; not soaking wet).
Once everything’s out of the room or covered up and the walls are clean, it’s time to patch the walls.
PATCHING THE WALLS
Let’s start with small holes, like nail holes or holes left by screws. For these holes, use the spackle and putty knife to patch them.
Before applying the spackle, make sure that the hole and wall around it is flat. Scrape off any bits of drywall around the hole (if you haven’t already – see previous step, above).
To apply the spackle, take your putty knife and scoop out a little from the jar. Next, smooth it onto the wall, holding the putty knife at about a 45-degree angle to the wall and not flat against the wall. You want to get the spackle into the hole, not smeared all over the wall.
Take several passes of the putty knife over the hole to ensure you’ve got spackle in and over the hole.
When you apply spackle over a hole, sometimes it looks like it’s bubbling up a bit, creating a rounded mound over the hole. To prevent this, take your finger and press gently on the spackle in the hole. This will push it back down in the hole and create a flatter surface (you’ll sand it later anyway, so it need not be perfect).
Once the spackle is dry, check to make sure your holes are covered well and can be sanded to a flat surface. If not, go back over them with a little more spackle on the putty knife.
For larger holes (bigger than a screw hole or nail hole), you’ll need to use the drywall patch kit. Now a word of warning: If you have a large hole – larger than a fist, let’s say – you’ll want to actually cut a piece of drywall to insert into that hole to patch it. You may even need to add a piece of wood behind the drywall to ensure that the patch stays put.
I’m not going to get into major drywall patching or repair here, but click HERE for a great article on it from This Old House.
If you are using the drywall patch kit, you’ll take the tape in the kit and place it over the hole, ensuring that it sticks to either side of the intact drywall. Then smooth the joint compound in the kit over it. Create as smooth a surface as possible while still covering the tape.
ONCE THE SPACKLE/PATCHES ARE DRY, IT’S TIME TO SAND.
Once the spackle spots or drywall patch is dry, it’s time to sand the spots flat. Grab the sanding block or sandpaper. Also, put on that mask and, if you are using one, the shop vac.
Sand over the patches on the wall by rubbing the sandpaper or sanding block over the patch in a back-and-forth or circular motion. You want to create a smooth surface so that, once you apply paint, you’ll never know there was a hole there. Be patient with sanding – it takes a while. I’ve been known to get impatient with it and stop before the surface was flat and then it showed once I painted and I had to do it again. Don’t do that.
When sanding, if you have a shop vac, turn the vacuum on and hold the nozzle of the vacuum under where you are sanding. The vacuum will catch most but not all of the dust, and it helps minimize the mess.
If you are using sandpaper, once the grit wears down on the piece you are using, get a new piece. The sandpaper won’t work if there isn’t a rough surface with which to sand.
You know you’re finished with sanding if the surface you patched is smooth. Obviously, you can tell this by running your hand over the patched area and surrounding wall. You can also tell by looking at the wall from the side. If you see a raised area where you patched, keep sanding.
My best tip for sanding is to put on some good music and try to dance while you sand. It makes a tedious job more tolerable. Sand to the music, people!
CLEAN THE WALL (AGAIN).
OK, once you’ve sanded everything, it’s time to clean up that dust.
Start at the top of the room and work your way down. That way, as the dust falls, you are cleaning up after it.
Use a damp rag – not soaking! – with warm water or the tack cloth and wipe down the walls. Wipe down not only the area you sanded, but the surrounding area as well, because it will have dust on it, too. (That dust goes everywhere!)
Work your way down the walls to the counter and floor and get up all the dust. You don’t want those particles in your paint later! If you need to take your drop cloth outside and shake it out, that’s good, too. Just get all the dust out of the room and off the walls as best you can.
Let the walls dry if you used a damp rag. NOTE: if you use a damp rag and you’re using the spackling compound I linked to above, the patch might turn light pink again when you go over it with the damp rag. Remember it’s pink when it’s not dry! It will dry again; just make sure your rag is only damp and not soaked when wiping down the walls.
SPECIAL TIP FOR CHALKBOARD PAINT
If you have painted chalkboard paint on the wall – like I did with our backsplash – and you want to cover it with regular latex paint, you must sand it first. Use 120- or 180-grit sandpaper to rough up the area with the chalkboard paint, especially the edges. You don’t want a ridge in your new paint job where the chalkboard paint used to be.
Once you’ve cleaned up the dust, you are ready to prime and paint the walls!
If you are painting over bare drywall, or chalkboard paint, or anything other than latex paint, you’ll want to use a primer first, before applying any new latex paint. You can use a paint + primer combination product here, although I think a separate primer and then good quality paint gives you a better paint job.
My favorite primer is Rust-Oleum Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 White Water-Based Interior/Exterior Primer Sealer. I’ve used it to cover water stains as well as the chalkboard paint, above, and been thrilled with the results. In my kitchen redo, you can’t even tell there was ever chalkboard paint there!
And there you go! You are ready to paint!